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Pushing the Limits(6)

By:Brooke Cumberland

"Name your favorite memory," the same guy reads from the sheet. He  answers right away. "My favorite memory is when my family all flew to  Florida from Ohio, and I swam in the ocean for the first time. I was  thirteen and it was the best vacation we'd ever had."

Next to him, Lauren gives her response. "Mine would be when I won an art  contest in high school. I went all the way to state and won first  place. I remember how proud my parents were and it was really the first  time they accepted that I was going to make art my career."

The other guy in our group tells us his, and then they all look at me,  waiting for my answer. I swallow, trying to think of something. "Um … " I  try to clear my throat, mentally preparing myself to share intimate  details of my past. My birthday had always been my favorite day before  the incident, but the last six years I hadn't brought myself to  celebrate it.

"That's okay, we can go to another one until you think of something,"  Lauren cuts into my thoughts. I smile in thanks back, relieved I didn't  have to give a response.

We continue the rest of the questions. There's five total, but with five  people, it took us a half hour to get through. I'm able to answer the  other four questions, as they were all quite basic, but no one mentions  the first one I missed, so I definitely don't bring it up.

Once all the groups are finished, Professor Hampton directs us back to our seats.

"Before we begin the very first assignment, I have a short exercise. I  want you to draw or paint one of your answers from the questionnaire.  Make it brief, it's only a draft. But do the best you can." He looks up  at the clock on the wall and continues, "I'll give you about thirty  minutes and then we have to move on."         



Students immediately fly out of their chairs to grab the easels and sort  through their supplies. Soon we're all back in our half circle,  silently working. I prefer to work standing up, so I move my chair back  and get into position.

The peace and quiet only broken up by soft chatter is comforting and  reminds me of all the times in high school I'd draw for hours in  silence. My thoughts would stay focused on the paper, making me feel  free to create whatever I wanted.

I decide to do the one I never answered-my favorite memory.

Which also happens to be my worst memory.

I start the outline of the tree's trunk and then move upward to the  branches. I add in some shading and little twig pieces. Since this is a  brief assignment, I can't get too detailed. I attach some leaves,  knowing in mid-April the trees weren't entirely blossomed yet in  Illinois. I extend the branch Ariel and I always sat on or hung from. It  was the thickest and sturdiest on the tree. Thinking back to it now,  I'm actually surprised it held the both of us from all the climbing,  hanging, and bouncing around on it.

She loved challenging herself to climb higher and higher. She was always  fearless. That was what I loved about her. She made me feel brave  enough to take risks, to try new things. Now I felt more scared than  ever.

As I'm tilting my head, shading in the rest of the tree trunk, I feel  cold air blow past me. Goose bumps rise on my skin, making a shiver  ripple through me. I feel his presence behind me before I see or hear  him. I know he's behind me, watching my every move. It feels intimate,  the way he's silently studying me. I slowly turn my head and shift my  eyes down to his feet.

"Don't stop," he says sincerely. "I'm enjoying watching you."

"Being watched makes me nervous," I admit.

"Just pretend I'm not here." I hear the humor in his tone, but I keep the smile from forming on my face.

"I don't think that's possible," I whisper softly. Not a guy like him  anyway. My body shivers, heat centering right in between my thighs as I  feel how close he is to me.

"That's a shame. You have a beautiful craft." My eyes move up his body  and land on his eyes. He's watching me intently, his lips in a crooked,  satisfying smile.

"Thank you."

"I mean it. The way your eyes glide over the paper as your hand moves is  a perfect blend of focus and creativity. I can see the thoughts running  through your head as your body takes the lead."

His words are so honest that I'm not even sure how to respond. My lips  form a small, pleased smile. "Years of practice." I shrug casually. "I  preferred to draw alone for a really long time," I explain without  giving away too much.

"And now?" he prompts, his voice somehow smooth and rough at the same time.

"Now … I'm still getting used to an audience, I suppose. But it's getting easier and easier with each class I have."

"That's good to hear. I've seen some of your portfolios from your other  classes. You have a lot of talent, Aspen." My body hums at the way his  voice sounds when he says my name-deep, hoarse.

I swallow, trying to hide the anxiousness and fear that he's seen my  other drawings before. Painting is very personal for me and even though  it's meant to be shared with the world, I tend to be over-critical of  myself. Most of them are somber, intense pieces. Even the brighter  colored ones have a darkness surrounding them.

"Thank you."

"You have a unique style. I'm looking forward to seeing what you create this semester."

I rub my teeth along my lower lip, sucking it in as I stare intently at  him. "I'm looking forward to seeing what you teach this semester." His  lips curl up into a satisfying grin as he shoves his hands in his  pockets and begins walking toward the next student.

I turn back around and continue working, my heart pounding rapidly in my  chest. I associate drawing and art with many things, but most  significantly, Ariel. Every time I get my head into a creative mindset,  my heart goes with it.


I never should've sat down next to her, but once I saw her, I couldn't help myself.

I recognized her facial profile the moment I walked into the classroom  from the few self-portraits I studied in her portfolio. So detailed, so  emotional.

I had only meant to introduce myself and get a few minutes alone with  her to discuss the pieces in her portfolio. However, that plan derailed  as soon as her friend sat down next to her.

The moment I hear the sweet hum of her laughter, I'm even more intrigued  than before. For someone who draws such passionate pieces, I assumed  she'd be covered in black clothing, wear heavy eyeliner, and be  plastered with a permanent scowl on her face. But she's nothing like  that at all. In fact, she's the complete opposite.         



Her laughter is infectious. Her golden blonde hair lies in loose waves  against her shoulders, and I can't help but notice how tight her purple  shirt hugs her breasts and waistline. I lower my eyes and smirk at the  leopard print fuck-me heels she's wearing with her dark skinny jeans.

Not what I imagined at all.

The moment I hear the girl next to her call me a hot piece of ass, I  nearly choke on my tongue. She finally turns and we make eye contact,  but it doesn't last for long before her friend continues with her  inappropriate string of comments. I smile and laugh in return at her  antics.

Aspen confesses that she's thrilled about class and for some reason it makes me weirdly giddy inside.


Scratch that last part. I haven't felt giddy in over five years, not since I've lived in this god-forsaken state.

However, the tinge of panic doesn't go unnoticed as I see Aspen's  expression as I stand up and walk to the front of the classroom. Her  eyes go wide and cheeks flush pink. A small part of me feels guilty  she's so embarrassed, but I find it freaking adorable. Ellie's  whispering in her ear and Aspen looks like she's about to die.

I really should leave the poor girl alone. Clearly she's not a social person, but I just can't help myself.

"Aspen Evans … " I call out because I want an excuse to look at her again. And hear her voice.

That voice.

It's so small and smooth that I'm afraid she'd float up to the ceiling  if her six-inch heels weren't weighing her down. I hadn't expected her  to stand up, but she does. I should tell her we don't have to be so  formal in this class, but I can't deny getting the opportunity to get a  better look at her.

Once introductions are over, I hand out the syllabus and repeat my  typical mantra. Look over the syllabus carefully. Don't skip my class.  Don't be a lazy participator.

I make sure to look around at all the students so I don't get caught  staring at her. Although that's where my eyes are directed since Ellie's  once again whispering over to Aspen.

"Do you have a question, ladies?" I really don't appreciate students  talking when I'm talking, so I make sure I'm firm just so the rest of  the class knows I'm not to be taken advantage of.

Ellie's quick-witted response takes me off guard, and I really have to  fight to hide the smile that wants to spread wide across my face.

I need a second to breathe, so I put the students in groups for their  first exercise. I start numbering students off into groups of five, but  when I come across Aspen's seat, she's gone. I look around and catch her  just as she's running out the door.